Mt Stirling

Photo: thomasrdotorg

The Melbourne Vixens have recently returned from pre-season training event, Camp Extreme, organised by Strength and Conditioning Coach Michael Crooks. Read on for his tips and advice for netball pre-season training.


What types of exercises are best for netball players to include in their preseason training programme?

Michael: I look at covering off three key areas in the pre-season. The first is to make sure athletes I coach are healthy so they don’t miss training sessions. An athlete who misses sessions due to injury is not going to be making the improvement gains that one would if you were not missing sessions. That means that we need to be on top of all those little niggles and the things that cause them. We need to make sure we have the ability to balance, we need good body alignment and posture, and we need the strength to support the body when we are caught in an unusual position on the court.

The second area is leg strength. Leg strength obviously increases our ability to sprint fast, jump higher and change direction quickly, but it is also an insurance policy against knee and ankle injuries as you will be stronger to save yourself from getting into positions that may cause an injury. We spend a lot of time with the Melbourne Vixens and the Victorian Institute of Sport netballers squatting, lunging and deadlifting to make sure our legs are as strong as they can be.

The last area is our conditioning loads. We need to be at a stage where our physical fitness is at a higher level than what will ever be required in a game. This means we will not have to worry about whether we have enough energy in the tank to see out a game. This also protects us from injury as landing technique in particular is affected by fatigue. We do a lot of base fitness work for the months leading into us getting back on court in the pre-season, they we do a lot of sprint and interval work once our court sessions start again.

How regular should training sessions be, and what’s a good length for each session? Does this differ to competition season training?

Michael: This really depends on how much time you have available. With two months to go before our season starts, the Melbourne Vixens are currently doing anywhere between 10 to 13 sessions per week. To get good strength gains, 2-3 sessions in the gym are required per week and if you add your conditioning sessions onto the start or end of your gym and after your court work sessions, most netballers could get away with about 5 sessions a week total.

Our workloads change significantly during the season depending on where we are playing, how many days between games, how hard the previous game has been and most importantly, how each individual has gotten through the previous game. It is important to understand that each player is an individual and how one person has physically responded to a training session or game maybe completely different to their teammates.

How do you motivate your players during a training session? Do you play music?!

Michael: We are very lucky that our playing group is highly motivated so heavy encouragement from me is not always required. We take a very professional approach to our training. We have a set of outcomes that we try to achieve for each session which all players and coaches are aware of. Our goal is to achieve those markers then move onto the next session in a business like fashion. Obviously motivation varies from session to session and day to day, but it’s my role to keep the training program stimulating so we minimise any lack of motivation throughout the pre-season. Preparation with alternate goals in mind makes a huge difference. For example, we spend a fair bit of our time before Christmas preparing for a series of fun runs. We had target times we were trying to hit for those runs, so our training preparation was for a running event rather than netball, which created the ability to improve the characteristics that we wanted to improve on the court, but by doing so with another goal in mind. As for music, that’s a personal choice. I find it hard to concentrate with music being too loud in the gym. It makes is difficult to communicate and make technical corrections with the music cranked right up as well. Most of the time, if our group wants the music loud, they use their headphones.

How did you become the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Melbourne Vixens? What advise do you have for others who want to pursue similar careers?

Michael: I work for an organisation called the Victorian Institute of Sport which has the responsibility to prepare a vast majority of Victorian based elite athletes. In my ten years working there, I have worked with a huge amount of athletes from a number of sports such as professional cycling, baseball, rowing, aerial skiing, snowboarding, hockey and netball just to name a few. One of my key roles as the senior strength and conditioning coach at VIS is the rehabilitation of injured athletes. It was during the time leading into the Commonwealth Games working with Julie Corletto and Sharelle McMahon that I started working with netball, which then progressed to looking after the full squad the last two pre-seasons.

My advice to anyone who wants to get into any form of elite coaching is that first of all, you have to have a complete love and passion for all sports, and an understanding that it is anything but a “normal” job. The hours are very long, the pressure is high, the accountability is higher! if you aren’t prepared to start early in the morning, finish late and night and work weekend, then coaching may not be for you. However, if you are prepared for the unusual structure, coaching and working with athletes is an amazingly rewarding occupation and I would encourage anyone with a passion for their sport to have a try.

Who or what inspires you?

Michael: Highly motivated positive people. I have plenty of energy for everything I do in life, and highly motivated positive people gives me even more drive for all aspects of life, not just sport. Nothing will sap your enthusiasm, drive and energy quicker than negative people. Always surround yourself with positivity!!!

Do you have a favourite quote?

Michael: I have a list of “rules” stuck on the wall next to my computer from a book called The Lombardi Rules. They are as follows:

  • Ask yourself the tough questions
  • Look the truth straight on
  • Play to your strengths
  • Write your own character
  • Think the big picture
  • Be completely committed
  • Work harder (and smarter) than everybody
  • Be prepared to sacrifice
  • Be mentally tough
  • Balance humility and pride
  • Lead with integrity
  • Explain the whys
  • Strike a balance
  • Build confidence
  • Use your mission
  • Make sure you know your stuff
  • Demand authority
  • Respect legitimate authority
  • Act, don’t react
  • Keep it simple
  • Chase perfection
  • Tailor your motivation
  • Motivate by degrees
  • Focus on fundamentals
  • Run to win!

    This is the first instalment in our court side interview series. Stay tuned for more coming soon!